Ugandan Text Messaging Program Aims To Increase Awareness, Knowledge of HIV/AIDS
A text messaging program using mobile phone technology is being used in western Uganda to increase awareness of and knowledge about HIV/AIDS, IRIN/Plus News reports. The AIDS Information Center in Uganda and Celtel, a local mobile phone network, have partnered with Text to Change, a nongovernmental organization that uses a bulk short message service platform for HIV/AIDS education. The pilot program, launched on Feb. 14, sent an introductory SMS to a list of 15,000 Celtel subscribers asking if they would like to participate in a no-cost interactive quiz about HIV. TTC offered incentives to participants, such as handsets and airtime for correct answers.
The trial program lasted for six to eight weeks and one question was sent each week. Questions -- such as, "What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?", "Have you ever tested for HIV?" and "How is HIV transmitted?" -- were sent to participants, and 2,500 of the 15,000 subscribers contacted responded to each question. After they sent an answer in reply, the participants received a SMS in return either correcting or confirming an answer. Participants were encouraged to go for HIV testing at the end of the trial period. According to Robert Natlaka, AIC's representative, requests for HIV testing at AIC's central facility in the Mbarara district of southwestern Uganda increased by 100% over the six-week period of the trial program. Natlaka said that approximately 225 participants went to the Mbarara center for testing and that others went to AIC partners throughout the district.
TTC public relations officer Bas Hoefman said that if there were "better sensitization and awareness" of the campaign and the questions were written in local languages, more people would respond to the questions. In the next year, TTC plans to expand the program into other districts.
The number of mobile phone users in Uganda is expected to reach six million by the end of 2008, according to the Ugandan Communications Commission. A 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey showed that up to 50% of people in urban areas have mobile phones, compared with 10% in rural areas. According to DHS, about 30% of women and 40% of men in Uganda have comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS, even though almost everyone in the country has heard of the disease (IRIN/PlusNews, 9/4).